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The criminal offense of phishing

On Behalf of | May 6, 2024 | Criminal Defense |

Fraud comes in many forms, but perhaps the most widespread type is phishing. Phishing is a type of cyber fraud where a person tries to trick others into revealing sensitive personal or financial information. This is usually done through fraudulent emails, texts, phone calls or fake websites that appear to be legitimate.

Scams involving phishing usually start small; it could be as minor as a misguided attempt to gain information that a person feels entitled to. Alternatively, it could begin as an exploratory “hacking” attempt without malicious intent.

But whatever the initial motivation, the truth is that phishing is a serious crime under Colorado law.  State laws on identity theft are so strict that merely having the tools to commit phishing or accidentally obtaining personal data can result in harsh penalties.

State laws on phishing

Colorado doesn’t have a specific law prohibiting phishing, but it has three laws that make it illegal for anyone to engage in any type of cyber fraud.

Using the identifying or financial information of others

Under state law, it’s illegal to knowingly use the personal or financial identifying information of another without permission. Possessing said information intending to misuse or allow someone else to misuse the data is also a crime. This offense is identity theft, and it’s a Class 4 felony.

Gathering sensitive data

It’s also against the law to gather identity information by deception (such as through phishing emails and websites). This offense is specifically a Class 5 felony.

Possessing phishing hardware

Finally, it’s a crime to possess identity theft tools such as computer networks, scanners, printers and other articles designed to commit or facilitate identity theft. This offense is also a Class 5 felony under Colorado law.

The penalties for phishing

It’s entirely possible for someone accused of phishing to face all three criminal charges. The potential penalties on conviction are:

  • Class 4 felony: This offense carries up to six years of imprisonment and $500,000 in fines, with a mandatory three-year parole period.
  • Class 5 felony: This offense carries up to three years of imprisonment and $100,000 in fines, with a mandatory two-year parole period.

A conviction for all three charges could mean facing over a decade of prison time and heavier fines.

Phishing may not look like a theft offense in the traditional sense, but it’s still treated harshly in Colorado. If you face charges, understand that severe penalties possibly await you, even if you’ve never used the financial information you allegedly possessed. A legal professional may be able to advise you on your case and represent you in court if the hearing process intimidates you.

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